Yeah, the heroes of the Alamo had it tough. But at least they only died once for their land-grabbing scheme -- sorry, for their freedom. Houstonian Mark Anthony Chavarria had to die five or six times a night for 30 days straight.
He was one of about 15 stuntmen on the big-budget epic The Alamo, to be released April 9. Since hundreds of "Mexican soldiers" get blown up, dismembered or shot onscreen, there was a lot of doubling up.
"We had to change looks all the time, we were getting killed so often," he says. The 500 extras who played the rest of the Mexican Army weren't professional stuntmen, so they stayed in the background while the pros got wiped out again and again.
In talking with Chavarria it became clear there are several rules for any potential stuntmen out there:
1. Get to Know Your Extras. Sure, most of them have guns made out of rubber or plastic, but some have rifles with blank cartridges that can ruin your day if you're too close. And they can have interesting pasts. "They don't do background checks or anything," Chavarria says. "I was talking to this one extra, and he was saying, 'I can't get a job at all, and I saw the ad where they needed Mexicans. I just got out of jail and no one else is going to hire me.'"
2. Do the Big Stunts Early. Stuntmen get a weekly salary and then receive "bumps" for doing difficult stunts, with the price being flexible. "At the beginning of the shoot, the bumps are really big, like $2,000," he says. "Towards the end, when they're getting over budget, it gets smaller. You hear people saying, 'Fuck, I busted my ass yesterday and only got $200.'" It makes a difference: "'I can give you my $200 fall-down or my $1,000 fall-down,' people say."
3. Don't Gossip About the Stars. "They're all cool, let's put it that way," he says. "And that's all I'll say. I want to get hired again."
Chavarria figures he earned $30,000 over the 30 days of shooting in Dripping Springs, and with it he's set up a cash-advance business for Houston film workers. Which is better than most Mexican soldiers ultimately got out of their time at the Alamo.
Raise that eyebrow! -- Last month, on the day Enron henchman Jeff Skilling was arrested, the Houston Museum of Natural Science surreptitiously announced the surprise resignation of its CEO, former Enron executive Rebecca McDonald.
Lower that eyebrow -- McDonald, former chair of Enron's Global Assets division, says she's going back to the energy industry and it was strictly coincidental the announcement came on Skilling Perp-Walk Day. "I guess a lot of folks thought my resignation happened abruptly -- how could it not be something hugely major? -- instead of knowing how much thought and time I put into this decision," she says.
Raise that eyebrow! -- Museum flack Lydia Baehr said all questions are answered in HMNS's boilerplate press release on the matter. (The "release" on the museum's Web site escaped media attention until Hair Balls started making calls.) Baehr promised a follow-up interview with the museum's interim head but then disappeared. Apparently fund-raising groups in town still hate to see themselves mentioned in sentences containing "Enron."
As for McDonald, she sure is into coincidences. From a July 2002 Houston Chronicle profile about her museum gig: "McDonald said it was a coincidence that she left Enron, where she had worked since 1999, just before the company imploded "
Energy giant BHP Billiton, watch out.
Nine Long Months
A significant portion of Montgomery County rejoiced earlier this month when three-term Sheriff Guy Williams was handily defeated in the GOP primary. But now they're starting to get anxious.
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Winner Tommy Gage has no Democratic opposition in the fall, so he's pretty much assured of office. Trouble is, his term doesn't start until January -- nine long months away.
That's a lot of time to settle scores. Especially if you're one of the people who's accused Williams of running a private fiefdom where rules are ignored or manipulated to reward cronies and punish foes, where suspicious jailhouse deaths and injuries occur, where opponents drive very, very carefully on the county's back roads.
"I've already heard from people who say [Williams has] told them, 'I have nine months, they better hide,'" says Debra Foster, who sued the sheriff and the county over her bail-bond business. Among other things, Foster claimed Williams and his staff destroyed evidence that they had blocked calls from the jail to her office, cutting off prospective customers. A federal judge awarded her $100,000 and appointed a jailhouse monitor.
Williams didn't return a call -- neither did Gage -- but Foster, a Harley-riding, shotgun-toting bottle blond, says she's not too worried. "I'm out here sitting on my front porch watching their every move."